Ultra-Trail Australia, where you find…
- a 53 year old man, who at his own admission is overweight (patting his well stocked paunch as proof), preparing to take on the Pace UTA22 with its 1200 metres of climb and descent, out to prove to his family that, you can do anything. And he did.
- The world-class athlete who during the daylight hours ran the UTA 100km event in 10hours and 52 minutes taking 19th place overall, who at 1am in the morning was emceeing, bantering, high-fiving and encouraging home the athletes who had been out nearly twice as long as he was.
- The friend who stood visibly shaking at the start line, processing the change of course and the challenges that she was unprepared for. From ladders fixed to rockfaces, to unknown trail, to climbing out of Nellies Glen in the dark. But she did it.
- The man spotted with an above knee prosthetic coming through Sewerage Works in the rain, silently reminding us that you can do anything. And he did.
- The ladies I get to call friends, embarking on their first 100km event. Complete with the knowledge and acceptance that they would be out all day and all night. Yet finding laughter and firmer friendships along the way. And they did.
- The guy who sat down in the dark with my husband while he struggled in his own hurt locker somewhere near 11 pm, just to have quick chat, rest and then proceed into the night one head torch beam at a time.
- The lady at 20kms of the Pace UTA22 in shock on the side of the trail because she had pushed her body that bit too far today. Seeing the generosity of spirit of fellow runners helping to reassure her until the marshal and medic arrived to stabilise her. Word is she has unfinished business and will be back next year. And I hope she will.
- Seeing my friend steely faced and determined, using the F-bombs she’s saved up over the years for a special occasion, forcing herself onwards when every step caused pain from her toes to her hip. But she got it done. She did it.
- A Sydney mum, who not running this year due to injury, became a one-person Super Support Crew at CP5, that glowing, throbbing, cruel pause 78kms into the night. Supporting whomever with whatever they needed, from a change of socks to quick noodles, to strapping or flat cola, to wiping tears or just being there. Then with a warm hug, a smile, some words of encouragement and on their way back into the dark. And so she stood waiting into the small wee hours of the night.
- The other friends crewing through the day and night, encouraging, listening and being the sounding board to a runner having a bad day. Being there to physically hold that runner, to hold space for her and, to welcome her tears when she decided to trust her gut, and call it a day at 78km. It doesn’t all end in the finish chute. With time, support and healing, she will finish her journey. I have faith she will.
- The quietly spoken, middle-aged lady who had volunteered all weekend going in to purchase a training T-shirt, because, “Well, I have something to train for this year.” Whats that? “Next year. I’m coming back to volunteer but, I want to do the 22km day.” You go girl. You will.
- The mass of ‘Next Generation’ runners lining up for the kids race. From the toddlers at 16months being herded in the right direction by hovering parents to the big kids who could sprint the distance without raising a puff.
- The octogenarian in a wheelchair at the Three Sisters, raising his walking stick to encourage on the 100km runners between 10am and 5pm (next year we’re just going to give him a fluoro vest and be done with it). With a ‘Go Matey!’, “Go Girly’, or, “Go Fellah’ he turned a typically non-spectator sport into a marvellous day out. Better yet with a grumble in his voice and brandishing his walking stick with purpose, “Get out of the way! There are runners coming through.” at the bemused tourists out to enjoy the majestic view oblivious to the the 55.5kms the runners had already traversed to get to this point.
- The little boy curled up in a makeshift sleeping bag on a makeshift bed of footstools in the runners lounge with his dad leaning back against the wall pulling his jacket in tight around himself, waiting well past 1am for their person to come up the finish chute. And she did.
- The 74 year old man completing his fourth UTA 100km (of five attempts) knowing full well he’ll only just scrape through the cut-off times and, will rely heavily on the generosity of the volunteer team to get him home, yet carries a little laminated card that reads NEVER GIVE UP. And he didn’t.
- The tears of relief or pain, smiles and fist pumps, the last 50 metre sprint to the line, the hugs, embraces, high-fives, limps and drawn in brows, the finish line sees it all. Yet there will also be the things we don’t see. Blisters the size of walnuts we’ll never see, the toenails that will re-grow, the chafe we don’t want to know, the aching muscles as DOMs sets in and the sense of achievement we can’t see in every tired step. Then there is the post-race analysis, the Stava stalking and the planning for next time…because there will be a next time.
So many stories. Stories filled with disappointments, achievements, goals smashed or Plan B’s enacted. Seeing the best in the people around you and gagging to be part of it. Like a good contagion, the best trail running experiences come from close contact.
Call it fun, character building, whatever you like.
We’ll be back next year.
Thank you, Ultra-Trail Australia.